The Bulls will be back in action this week, playing in the first of two Super Rugby warm-up friendlies, but their focus is already on a Valentine’s Day date with the Stormers in their opening Super 15 match.
Last season the side from Pretoria finished another season without a trophy after finishing ninth in Super Rugby and going only as far as the semifinal of the Currie Cup.
Few were impressed by the side’s performances last year, and this was evidenced by the dwindling numbers of fans who watched the side at their fortress Loftus.
The team have been hard at work gearing up for the approaching season – one that could prove to be make or break for coach Frans Ludeke.
“We did the hard yards in November and December.
“I must say the players also worked hard over the Christmas break,” Ludeke said about his side’s preparations so far.
“It was a well-deserved break after a long season.
“You could see when they came back that they worked hard during the break even though they were away from the game and from each other.
“We continue from almost where we left off,” Ludeke said.
“The preparation is more game related now, more detailed, trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle that make our game work.”
The Bulls face the Cheetahs in Polokwane on Saturday, and next week they travel to London to take on Saracens in the last friendly game ahead of the start of Super Rugby.
Ludeke is likely to blood youngsters against the Cheetahs, while the strongest outfit is likely to play against Sarries on January 31.
“All the players who are here, we would like to give a chance, especially the youngsters who have not played at this level,” Ludeke said.
“In these two games we want to know where we stand with them. We know exactly where we want to go for that first game against the Stormers.
“We are working towards that game in terms of selection,” Ludeke said.
One of the key decisions he has to make ahead of the start of the Super 15 campaign is to appoint a captain.
There are four strong contenders – veteran Victor Matfield, previous captain Pierre Spies, new recruit and ex-Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss, and last season’s Currie Cup captain, Deon Stegmann.
Strauss and Stegmann are likely to be lower down the order of the possible candidates, while Matfield could be sparingly used in the campaign in order to manage the Springbok, who could well end up leading the Boks at the World Cup later in the year.
“It’s almost a case of having as much as four quality leaders,” is all Ludeke would say.
“In terms of leadership we are probably back to where we were about two years ago, having a few decision-makers who can lead the side.”
With the arrival of hooker Strauss and loosehead prop Trevor Nyakane at Loftus, the Bulls are set to have arguably the one front row in the country which will give the Sharks’ trio – Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis — stiff competition.
They are likely to be joined by another Bok, tighthead Marcel van der Merwe, to form the possible regular front row.
With the departure of Paul Willemse and injury to Flip van der Merwe, who will only return in April, there could be a slight crisis at lock in the long run for the side.
Talented Jacques du Plessis, who made a massive impact as a loose forward in the past season, will be tried at No 4 lock, while youngsters Marvin Orie and Nico Janse van Rensburg will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
“At lock, players need to stick up their hands.
“We have confidence in Jacques [du Plessis],” Ludeke said.
“If you look at our squad, that is an area players need to raise their hands and show us what they are about.
“There will be opportunities,” he promised.
“All the other positions, think, are well covered.”
– Chumani Bambani